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“Walk your Cycle”

Image credit Nick Sayers

“When I’m on my bike I don’t feel disabled at all. Being asked to walk my cycle is a barrier that suddenly tips the balance.”

‘Walk your cycle’. These three words have been painted by Brighton & Hove City Council on the ground on George Street, a pedestrianised shopping Street in Hove. They may seem innocuous enough but to me they are deeply problematic. 

The thing is that walking and cycling are not the same thing. Just because you can do one doesn’t mean that you can do the other. On my e-bike I can move around freely and easily. The electric motor provides that bit of extra energy that my legs need to happily transport me from one place to another and I can cover a good distance. Off my bike I walk slowly and tire easily due to a progressive neurological condition called Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT). 

I am able to walk my bike for a short distance on the flat if I really need to but my e-bike is heavy and cumbersome. I lack the strength in my arms to confidently keep the bike or myself from toppling over. The situation is worse if the bike is already loaded with shopping and I really struggle if I have to walk my bike downhill. 

I’m fortunate. I can still walk pretty well and ride a standard e-bike. This is not the case for everyone. Disabled or older cyclists riding trikes, recumbent cycles, hand cycles or other adapted bikes may not be able to simply get off and walk. We would think it ridiculous to ask a mobility scooter or wheelchair user to do the same.

According to research by Wheels for Wellbeing 75% of disabled cyclists use their bike as a mobility aid, finding cycling easier than walking. Of these ‘nearly half have been asked to dismount and walk/wheel their cycle, even when it might be physically impossible for them to do so. Typically, this occurs on footways or in pedestrianised areas, where mobility scooters are allowed but cycles and cycling are not.’ 

Wheels for Wellbeing are therefore campaigning for cycles to be legally recognised as mobility aids with their ‘My Cycle, My Mobility Aid’ campaign.

According to the ONS 1 in 5 people have a disability. Disabled people are twice as likely to be physically inactive. There is a misconception that people with disabilities don’t cycle but research by Transport for London found that 12% of Disabled people in London cycle regularly or occasionally compared to 17% of non-Disabled people.

For me cycling is a wonderful way to remain active and independent without having to rely on a car for transport. I regularly grapple with whether to identify myself as ‘disabled’. What does this word mean and how bad do my physical impairments need to be to use it? 

The social model of disability used by many disabled people and organisations including Scope says ‘people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference… Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control.’  

When I’m on my bike I don’t feel disabled at all. I feel free and I love the feeling of overtaking another cyclist! On foot I’m always the one being overtaken. Being asked to walk my cycle is a barrier that suddenly tips the balance towards feeling disabled.

A council spokesperson said “We accept that people with disabilities who cycle may want to cycle where others may not be allowed. But we have to ask that they refrain from doing so on George Street and use adjacent roads if they’re unable to dismount. We are continually getting complaints from people who use George Street about cyclists failing to dismount.” 

If we had a good network of segregated cycle lanes as laid out in Brighton & Hove’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP), approved by the Council in March 2022, then they wouldn’t need to ask anyone to walk their cycle. People on bikes wouldn’t feel the need to cycle on pavements or through busy pedestrianised areas if there was an alternative safe and direct route. How many more people could continue to remain fit and active and enjoy the benefits of cycling if we made cycling truly accessible for everyone in Brighton & Hove?

As well as their ‘My Cycle, My Mobility Aid’ campaign, Wheels for Wellbeing also recommend the pilot of a ‘Blue Badge’ scheme for disabled cyclists ‘granting Disabled cyclists permission to cycle considerately in non-cycling areas’. They note that other countries including Japan, Australia and New Zealand have ensured that as well as disabled people, children and the elderly are exempt from laws prohibiting cycling on footways.

Changes to the law take time and detailed scrutiny. In the meantime I would encourage the council to consider the language they use. Disabled people cycle too and simply using the words ‘no cycling’ would be less discriminatory. We must recognise that it isn’t always possible to ‘walk your cycle’.

To support Wheels for Wellbeing’s ‘My Cycle, My Mobility Aid’ campaign visit:​​https://wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk/campaigning/my-cycle-my-mobility-aid/

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